Cross-addiction is simply a transfer of addictions, the exchange of one harmful dependency for another. When addiction becomes cross addiction it occurs by substituting one mood-altering drug for another is perhaps the most common form of cross-addiction. Medication for alcohol, alcohol for heroin, and marijuana for cocaine are just some examples. The list goes on and on, but the result is always the same disaster. The decision to switch from one chemical to another has shipwrecked thousands of individuals’ efforts to recover.
Sincere and hopeful people who are trying to overcome an addiction fall victim to the lure of cross-addiction. They don’t foresee the impending danger. Danger? What danger? Why is it harmful for a recovering alcoholic to smoke a little pot, or a recovering cocaine addict to drink a glass of wine with dinner, or an ex-junkie to use some prescribed pills to calm down? These are fair questions and are often asked by many in early recovery. They reason, I have used these chemicals before, and they never caused me any problems. This reasoning may seem sound on the surface, but it’s not. It’s a deceptive first step on the road back to addiction.
When addiction becomes cross addiction
What really happens when an addict exchanges one mood-altering chemical for another? The first predictable notion, when addiction becomes cross addiction, is that a new addiction arises: the addict becomes addicted to the substitute chemical. This may not happen immediately. It may take months or even years. The intention, stated or otherwise, is to use the new chemical in moderation. Just a little, mind you, not enough to cause any problems – and just for a little while. But the addict eventually uses more and more, the problems get worse and worse, and the addict is right back where he or she started. The addict now has the same problem, but a new master. The new master may be called alcohol instead of heroin, or marijuana instead of pills. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever the new master’s name, the addict’s reality is still the same: enslavement. For the chemically dependent person, substituting one chemical for another makes about as much sense as changing rooms on the Titanic.
But when addiction becomes cross addiction that’s not all that happens. A new addiction isn’t the only danger associated with trading one chemical for another. Using a substitute chemical often results in a return to the chemical of choice. Why? Because the resolve to abstain from the drug of choice weakens when another mood-altering chemical is being used. Clouded judgment is a natural by-product of drug use, and the new chemical convinces that the old chemical wasn’t really that bad. The pain and problems associated with the drug of choice are quickly ignored, so it seems reasonable to use it again. The new result is that the addict falls prey to two or more mood-altering drugs instead of one.
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